Louisiana Voucher Assault, Round 2

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Justice’s lawsuit takes a bizarre turn to keep kids in rotten schools.

Dec. 1, 2013 6:45 p.m. ET

The Justice Department campaign against Louisiana school vouchers gets curiouser and curiouser. Attorney General Eric Holder’s troops are now trying to prevent black parents from joining the case by amending their original lawsuit to block the vouchers in 22 districts.

Some Republicans in Washington, D.C., interpreted this motion as Justice dropping its lawsuit, but no one should be fooled. Justice now wants federal courts to establish what would essentially be a preclearance process letting DOJ approve every voucher.

Under Louisiana’s voucher law, only students from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty line and who attend schools with a C grade or below are eligible for vouchers. Black kids received over 85% of the 6,800 vouchers this year, and 93% of their parents express satisfaction with the program.

But that doesn’t matter to Mr. Holder’s prosecutors, who sued in August on grounds that vouchers may lead to segregation under judicial orders dating to the 1970s. The original lawsuit literally claims, for instance, that black kids who use vouchers to attend private schools could leave public schools more white.

This objection has proven to be unfounded. Boston University political scientist Christine Rossell, who has spent 40 years studying school desegregation plans, has analyzed the Louisiana voucher data. She concluded in a study last month that vouchers overall had “no negative effect on school desegregation” and substantially improved integration in St. James and Lincoln parishes.

In September, parents of voucher students represented by the Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options sought to intervene in the case. Justice at first argued that parents didn’t have a direct interest in the litigation since Justice was not “seeking to end the [voucher] Program,” though the department was seeking a permanent injunction.

That looked like a loser, so now DOJ says it wants federal Judge Ivan Lemelle to approve a “process to ensure that the State provides necessary information and complies with its desegregation obligations.” The goal here is to put the federal bureaucracy in charge.

Justice wants to review data on all voucher applicants including their race, public school district, whether and why they are granted a voucher and the private school to which they were assigned. And it wants that info at least 45 days before parents are notified that their kids will get a voucher. Why? Because the feds don’t want parents to know if the feds knock their kids from the voucher list.

DOJ is also claiming federal jurisdiction over the entire state, not merely the 22 districts under desegregation orders. Justice says it wants information on all voucher applicants, “including those in school districts not operating under federal desegregation orders, in order to review compliance with this Court’s [desegregation] orders that apply to private schools.” Translation: DOJ is threatening to audit private schools that admit voucher students. Shaking down private schools is another way to stunt the program.

At a November hearing, Judge Lemelle expressed skepticism of Justice’s case. Vouchers are “promoting racial balance in the school system,” he said, and “I don’t want to do anything to thwart that.” The judge has given the state and feds 60 days to agree to a review process. The Obama Administration should take this time to drop its morally offensive assault on the education of minority children.

Copyright 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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